Northern Ireland

Unemployed, seeking work and over 50

Elderly woman holding money Image copyright PA
Image caption The rate of unemployment among over-50s in Northern Ireland is 4.5%

Being made redundant hurts no matter at what age - but what happens to those who lose their jobs later in life?

Outside of London, Northern Ireland has the highest rate of unemployment for the over-50s in the UK.

The Office of National Statistics put the rate at 4.5%, despite the number of unemployed people in the age group falling in recent years.

However, unemployment in later life continues to be a problem, particularly after the closure of numerous factories in recent years.

It's a hardship that Ken and Mairead Stewart, from County Fermanagh, know all about.

The couple were made redundant when Unipork, a bacon-processing factory in Enniskillen, closed its gates in 2000.

Image caption Ken and Mairead Stewart could not find another job after Unipork closed

Mairead was 55 and Ken was 50. Despite applying for numerous jobs, they never worked again.

"We applied and we tried and did everything, but there was no chance of anything at that time," said Ken.

"When you work all your life, it's degrading."

"It took the economy out of the town," added Mairead.

"Five hundred people spent a tenner on a Friday evening and a lot of other people would have done their shopping before they went home to Lisnaskea and other areas."

A number of high-profile factory closures in County Antrim have also had a major impact on those who spent most of their working lives in the companies.

Tommy Kerr was made redundant at 58, when the Ballymena firm Patton closed in 2012. He had worked for the company for 40 years.

'Left behind'

Tommy has since found employment and said that people in their 50s should take ownership of their career path and try to get new skills.

"It was a shock when it happened," he recalled.

"I didn't even have a CV. My generation was brought up with pounds, shillings and pence.

"Everything moves so fast now. It's up to you to keep in step with that, or else you are going to get left behind and, to be honest, maybe I left myself a wee bit behind."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Michelin's plant in Ballymena is due to close in 2018

"People in their 50s are wise enough to what is in front of them," he added. "I think the daunting task is interviews, particularly if you have worked in one place for 40 years.

"Ordinary working people who haven't got a lot of qualifications should get a bit of help down the line, to give them confidence to move on to another job, with better prospects - even if they are over 50.

"Towns are struggling, people are struggling and money is really tight."

Rodney Quigley, 52, works as a tyre producer for Michelin in Ballymena. He will be losing his job in June 2018.


He said that many made redundant in their 50s are lucky because they may be entitled to a good pension - something that younger generations may not benefit from.

"The money I'm getting at the minute is very good and there's not another job out there, in the Ballymena or broader area, that you will get that sort of money," he said.

"A lot of the boys in the factory are currently doing their heavy-goods vehicle licences.

"There are jobs out there for that, but it's not for everybody. A lot of the jobs out there are minimum wage."

He added: "I felt deflated when I heard I was losing my job. I've been there 31 years and I thought it would see me through until my late 50s, early 60s.

"I'm in a position I can look towards getting my pension at 55, there is a lot of young boys out there still in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are going to have to try and find other employment."

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